Iraqi security forces have shot dead at least three protesters and wounded over a dozen more as anti-government rallies turned violent outside the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Karbala.
There were unconfirmed reports on Monday that riot police had also opened fire in the capital Baghdad, killing a further five people.
Both incidents mark the latest wave of violence in the country ripped apart by weeks of protests, triggered by soaring unemployment, government corruption and substandard public services.
In total over 250 people have been killed and nearly 10,000 wounded since the demonstrations started in early October.
The country’s prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi pleaded for calm writing on his Facebook page: “It is about time for life to return to normal.”
But Sunday night, dozens of young protesters set tyres ablaze in Karbala, a Shia shrine city, before moving on the Iranian consulate chanting: “Iran leave leave, Karbala remains free.”
Protesters have increasingly directed their anger at Tehran, which has close ties to the government, Shia political factions and powerful paramilitary groups.
Witnesses told The Independent several protesters scaled the concrete barriers surrounding the building in order to remove the Iranian flag and stone the buildings.
They said some threw firebombs over the walls while others placed an Iraqi flag on the wall around the consulate.
“Anti-riot forces then arrived and dispersed the protesters by force using live ammunition, tear gas, and sticks” Mutaz, a local reporter, told The Independent.
“Three young men died, and six security personnel and several other protesters were wounded in the events,” he added.
On Monday witnesses in the capital said that security forces had also opened fire on demonstrators who gathered in Baghdad’s key rallying squares.
A video shot by agency Reuters showed security forces shooting one protester dead with live ammunition.
Other footage shared by activists showed the wounded being loaded onto tuk-tuks, as gunfire crackled in the background.
There was no official comment on the reports of killings in Baghdad.
However, Iraq's official human rights watchdog did confirm the Karbala killings, saying the crowd tried to break into the consulate. Security sources said they tried to torch it.
The foreign ministry said that Iraq is committed to protecting diplomatic missions and the attack on the consulate was a “red line that cannot be crossed”.
Amnesty International said last week that Iraqi security forces were not only using live ammunition but "military-grade" tear gas grenades that when fired at close range can shatter skulls.
Mr Abdul-Mahdi, meanwhile, pleaded with protesters to “let all markets, businesses, schools and universities open their doors” on Facebook saying closing roads to the country’s ports is threatening oil interests and causing billions of dollars’ worth of losses.
“This and other [issues] raise prices ... hampers job creation and the growth of the economy,” Mr Abdul-Mahdi’s statement added.
Mr Abdul-Mahdi’s call comes against the backdrop of strikes staged by teachers and lawyers across the country in addition to protests blocking main roads, oil fields and ports.
Last week, Iraqi president Barham Salih said Mr Abdul-Mahdi would resign if political parties could agree on his replacement.
Protesters have repeatedly demanded the entire government resign and reiterated this in a comprehensive list of demands distributed on Monday in a pamphlet entitled “Tuk tuk”, the automated rickshaws which have become the symbol of the protests.
In the extensive document, they called for the government to be replaced by a three-month transitional body consisting of figures who have not previously held any local or national office.
The paper also demanded electoral law be amended, a new independent elections commission be formed and legislation approved forcing political parties to reveal their sources of funding.
It also said they wanted fresh elections overseen by the United Nations, an amended constitution and an impartial investigation into the killing of demonstrators.
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